PICARD TREK…what is CBS thinking???? (editorial, part 2)

Yesterday, I began discussing the explosive news that hit Trek fandom like a warp core breach over this past weekend: SIR PATRICK STEWART will be returning to play Jean-Luc Picard in a brand new Star Trek television project.  It’s not known yet if this will be an ongoing series, a mini-series, or just a made-for-TV movie or pilot.  No scripts have been written, and indeed, there are no real details yet detailing whether this will be Captain Picard, Admiral Picard, Ambassador Picard, or just some bald guy who used to fight the Borg now running a small winery in eastern France.

But one thing is for sure: CBS is now committed to the project because it’s been officially announced to both Trekkies and the world at large.  Nearly all major entertainment media magazines were carrying the news on their websites within 24 hours.  It’d be tough for CBS to back out now.

But is this a good thing?

After all, in an interview on StarTrek.com back in 2010, Sir Patrick himself said of Next Gen: “I remain very proud of the work that we did, very proud of the series and the movies, but I do not wish to return to it.”  In a convention appearance around that same time where I saw him, Stewart explained that he felt he’d thoroughly examined every aspect of Picard creatively as a actor and was okay moving on.

Is CBS just desperately going back to a well that’s already been mostly tapped…rather than working to create something fresh and new?  Are they relying on Patrick Stewart as “stunt casting” to help draw in more viewers?

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PICARD TREK…what is CBS thinking???? (editorial, part 1)

The Star Trek world was rocked this past weekend when news arrived from Las Vegas that not only will there be a second new live-action Star Trek series going into pre-production (rather than just being proposed), but it will feature none other than Sir Patrick Stewart himself reprising his role of Jean-Luc Picard!  I’ve seen the word “nerdgasm” bantered about over the past 48 hours, and I must admit to being more than a bit excited myself over the news.

I was also intrigued (although not necessarily surprised) to find that some fans had more…shall we say…pessimistic reactions.  One friend of mine wrote me, “To be honest, this terrifies me and is the worst thing they could have done. They will build up unrealistic hype over it and finally break the backs of the majority of the deep fandom with disappointment.”  Interestingly, he didn’t say this because he thought Star Trek: Discovery was/is terrible.  In fact, he added, “I was hopeful with Discovery and it turned out somewhere between ok and good…”

Conversely, it seems that a lot of Discovery detractors are using this news to cross their fingers and predict/hope/pray that “this time, they’ll get it right.”  And many Discovery supporters are thinking, “Hey, it’ll be another great new Trek series AND it’ll have Picard…win-win!”

I probably fall more into the former group, but in my mind, there’s a much more interesting question to ask: What is CBS thinking???

I do not mean this in a “What in the world are these clueless idiots possibly thinking?” kind of way.  Instead, I’m really, truly curious what is going through their minds right now.  And I’d like to share some conjectures with you…realizing that this is purely speculation on my my part.  But I think it’ll be a fun little thought experiment…

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A funny thing happened to STAR TREK: DISCOVERY… (editorial)

Okay, San Diego Comic Con 2018 is now in the history books, and nearly every Trekker is now talking about Season Two of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.

Fans now know that, in addition to Anson Mount playing Captain Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn (who played the shape-shifting Mystique in the early X-Men films) will play Number One, and yes, we will be seeing Spock at some point this season.  Other new characters, like Tig Notaro as Chief Engineer Reno, are also being added (not sure as regulars or guests stars), plus at least one actor whose character died during Season One will be returning in some undisclosed way.

In addition to the debut of Season Two of Discovery sometime in early 2019, four “Short Treks” (about 10-15 minutes each) will tell stories focusing on the histories of established characters like Tilly and Saru plus a new character named Craft, and a fourth featuring Harry Mudd (played by Rainn Wilson, who will also direct his mini-episode).  Reportedly, one of these four shorts will be released each month leading up to the January premiere of Season Two.  Whether these “Short Treks” will be exclusive to CBS All Access (and Netflix outside of America and Canada) or posted for free on the Internet has not been made clear yet.  Personally, I think they should be posted publicly to draw in more viewers to the subscription service…but what do I know?

(Side/snide note – for any fan filmmaker who’s been complaining, “You can’t tell a decent Star Trek story in less than 15 minutes…” well, CBS is about to either prove you right or wrong.  Stay tuned!)

But by far, the most excitement came from this intriguing Season Two trailer.  And for the 1% of you out there who haven’t seen it yet, here ’tis…

Not bad, huh?  But there was something oddly familiar about it…

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COPYRIGHT HOLD is LIFTED by CBS on fan video criticizing STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

Last week, this was going to be a very different blog!  Last week I was going to report on how CBS was enforcing a copyright hold on a fan-made video that was critical of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.  The fan had tried to monetize the video on YouTube (showing ads), and because there were clips from Star Trek episodes (from multiple series) in the critique, it got automatically flagged for a copyright hold.

The fan, who goes by her YouTube account name PsychoSpider, challenged the copyright hold claiming an exemption for Fair Use.  Ah, fair use!  Ever since AXANAR fought back against CBS and Paramount when sued for copyright infringement, numerous fans (including yours truly) became “armchair experts” in the fair use defense.  In short, there are certain cases where it’s okay and even legal to use someone else’s intellectual property without first getting their permission.  And one of those cases is when the person is using copyrighted material for purposes of criticism, even when the criticism might generate revenue.

(Don’t just take my word for it!  Read about Fair Use on the website of the U.S. Copyright Office.)

One of the reasons that Fair Use exists for criticism is because it is generally assumed that a copyright holder would be unlikely to ever grant permission to someone to use their intellectual property only to complain about it.  So Fair Use was created to try to balance the opposing forces of copyright protections and freedom of speech.  It’s not always an open-and-shut case, but in general, critical speech is protected even when copyrighted intellectual property is used.  The problem is, you usually have pay a lawyer lots of money to get a court to agree with you.

That wasn’t an option for PsychoSpider.  Instead, she simply filed her hold challenge, claiming Fair Use, and waited.  It didn’t take long for CBS to respond with a big, fat “NO!”  She tried again, and again her challenge was rejected.  She would not be allowed to monetize her video on YouTube.

I was all ready to write a blog about this outrage.  I’d interviewed PyschoSpider, contacted CBS for an official comment (didn’t get one), and was nearly ready to hit “Publish.”  And then something totally unexpected happened…

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Why can’t STAR TREK to be more like LOST IN SPACE?! (review editorial, part 2)

DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!  LOST IN SPOILERS!

In Part 1, I looked at some of the striking similarities between the two franchises LOST IN SPACE and STAR TREK.  And then I shared how my seven-year-old son and I absolutely LOVED the first season of the new Netflix reboot of Lost in Space, while I personally have been mostly disappointed with the new Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access (which I don’t let my son watch).

Yesterday, I provided an overview of why Jayden and I enjoyed LiS so much.  It made us cheer.  We rooted for the characters and wanted to see them get out of trouble and win.  On the other hand, during the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, I found myself caring very little about any of the crew or nearly all of the other characters on that show.

But enough with the generalities!  It’s time to provide some specifics of what I think LiS is doing right that Discovery is failing to do.  So let’s dive right in…

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Why can’t STAR TREK to be more like LOST IN SPACE?! (review editorial, part 1)

DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!  LOST IN SPOILERS!

Like Star Trek, LOST IN SPACE recently returned to television after a long absence with a new series…available only through a paid subscription service.  Both shows are “darker” than their original versions, very expensive to make (about $8-$8.5 million per episode), and both are produced entirely in Canada (Star Trek: Discovery in Toronto and Lost in Space in British Columbia).

Both series debuted to very strong viewership numbers.  When the first two episodes of Discovery premiered on the CBS network, 9.6 million people watched.  When LiS debuted on Netflix, Nielsen estimated that 6 million people watched it in the first three days alone and that 1.2 million binge-watched all ten episodes during that time.  More viewers—such as myself and my 7-year-old son Jayden, watched LiS several weeks later over the course of many nights.

While it’s not known how many people are watching Discovery (CBS keeps those numbers locked up tighter than the gold in Fort Knox!), estimates are that about 300,000-500,000 subscribers view Discovery on All Access with more watching on Space TV in Canada and on Netflix in other countries around the world.  And despite mixed reviews from both critics and fans, both series have now been renewed for a second season.

So those are their main similarities.  But what about their differences?  And what is it about those differences that leaves me so much MORE enthusiastic about the new Lost in Space than I am about Star Trek: Discovery?

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STAR TREK: DISCOVERY’S “Secret Scene”! (editorial)

Over this past weekend, at WonderCon in Anaheim, CA, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY show-runner AARON HARBERTS released what he referred to as a “secret scene. ” He told the audience, in what I thought was a strange comment, that they decided to cut the scene out of the season one finale because it would be “…more exciting to bring it to a place like [WonderCon].”

Um, yeah.

By now, many of you have probably viewed the two and a half-minute “secret scene” (complete with a full minute and a half of credits…which seemed odd and unnecessary to me).  If you’re in the U.S., you can view the clip below…

And in a case of international legalistic inconvenience, those folks in Canada can only watch it here, and the rest of the world can see it here.

Almost immediately, fans started talking excitedly about this “new” scene and what it means for season two.  And not surprisingly, a whole bunch of folks e-mailed and/or IM’d me to ask what I thought about it.  I guess all those Discovery blogs I’ve written have marked me as some kind of fan barometer or something…or maybe they were just hoping I had some interesting insight or that maybe I’d find some fun way to trash the scene.  Who knows?

But since I’ve had a bunch of people ask for my opinion, I thought it best to just write it once.  Obviously, I’m not going to put any spoiler warnings here, as the season ended last month and the “secret scene” is right here on this blog.

So here we go…

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Why CBS is NOT “panicking” about STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial, part 2)

Yesterday, I began by noting that there were a number of Trek fans who believed that CBS was somehow in a “panic” about the poor performance of Star Trek: Discovery, and that there was some kind of pressure being put onto the production team to retool the series, possibly bringing in the USS Enterprise to somehow replace the USS Discovery…or some nonsense like that.

It’s true that, at best, Star Trek: Discovery is just about breaking even for CBS…or possibly losing a few million dollars.  I didn’t do all the math yesterday as I ran out of space, but I’ll do it quickly here for you.

Since last September when Discovery premiered, CBS All Access has added approximately 500,000 new subscribers (going from 2 million to 2.5 million).  I learned that the majority of those subscribers were actually tuning into the NFL on All Access and not Discovery, but let’s assume that they all joined because CBS added a new Star Trek show.

All Access allows subscribers to watch with commercials for $6/month or without for $10/month.  Let’s average that to $8/month.  Discovery was on for five months:

 [  5 months x $8/month x 500,000 subscribers = $20 million   ]

As I mentioned yesterday, Discovery cost CBS about $30 million to produce (the portion not covered by Netflix licensing).

So how does Discovery break even if it’s losing $10 million?  Advertising.  Also, not all of those subscribers canceled after 5 months, so the revenue continues.  In other words, Discovery is doing just fine as far as CBS is concerned.

On the other hand, the license to stream the NFL on All Access likely cost CBS upwards of $250 million…and there’s no way they didn’t lose money on that deal!  So why keep throwing major bucks into All Access if you’re CBS?  Hasn’t this experiment essentially failed?

And to make matters worse, this is how All Access looks when measured up against Netflix and Hulu subscribers (and this is only in the U.S. alone)…

YEESH!  Sucks to be CBS, right?  So why not put All Access out of its misery?  Why bother keeping Star Trek: Discovery on the air and losing money on the NFL?

There’s a very simple reason…

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Why CBS is NOT “panicking” about STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial, part 1)

Like a number of Trek fans, I watch and enjoy the Midnight’s Edge video podcast.  The production values are high, and the updates are interesting and informative.  But they’re also full of rumor, conjecture, and innuendo.

I sometimes feel as though I’m listening to fan “wish-fulfillment” and conspiracy theories, and I occasionally find myself wondering what is true and what is simply something that the creator(s) of Midnight’s Edge WANT to be true.

It’s often really hard to tell the difference!  In their most recent video podcastMidnight’s Edge mentions that, “There were reportedly no Star Trek: Discovery toys revealed at the 2018 Diamond Select ToyFair.”  Note the word “reportedly.”  It’s a relatively careful word.   The “report” they reference was a single tweet from Gabriel Koerner, who was apparently there…

Three days later, however, TrekMovie.com reported that McFarlane Toys was displaying a brand new Star Trek: Discovery phaser at ToyFair.  So perhaps sourcing a single tweet from a roving, non-reporter VFX artist might not be the most reliable way to confirm one’s facts.

And so it was that I took the following quote from the most recent Midnight’s Edge video podcast with a pretty huge grain of salt:

“While CBS displayed confidence to the public, there was rumored chaos and panic behind the scenes, and the latter episodes of the series were allegedly retooled to address fan concerns going forward.  Because from season 2 onwards, it is going to be increasingly important to win back the fans.”

Sounds all juicy and dramatic, don’t it?  Of course, notice the words “rumored” and “allegedly” included in there.  Some fans, dissatisfied and angry about the new series not hewing more closely to TOS and established Star Trek designs, would love to think that there are huge regrets at CBS about the way Discovery was rolled out and handled…and that the higher-ups are putting pressure on the producers to fix this and that.  It’s certainly a compelling narrative if you’re an angry and resentful Trek fan.

It’s kind of like Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files wanting to believe in the most far out conspiracy theories.  And who knows?  Maybe they’re right.  But I seriously doubt it.

So it’s time for me to put on my Special Agent Dana Scully red wig and provide an alternative, more reasonable analysis of the situation currently going on with CBS and Star Trek: Discovery.  Then you can decide whom YOU want to believe…

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Great news for STAR TREK: DISCOVERY…or is it? (news and editorial, part 2)

Rather than writing a review of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (that’s coming tomorrow), I decided to take a look at the bigger picture.  Were the record sign-ups right after the premiere really “big news” or simply the inevitable result of hundreds of millions of dollars in production and advertising/marketing budgets?  Also, what does it tell us that CBS remains so reluctant to provide hard numbers about how many people actually subscribed last night?

As I said in yesterday’s blog, my goal here is NOT to try to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory for CBS.  I’m actually very happy that Star Trek: Discovery did so well in both ratings and sign-ups.  This means that the worst-case scenario—CBS simply assumes that Star Trek has run its course and is no longer a viable sci-fi franchise—has been avoided.  Nearly 10 million people watched the free network TV premiere on Sunday night.  So anyone accusing me of sour grapes is wrong.  Wet blanket, yes.  Sour grapes, no.

My desire, to be honest, is to simply take a wider look at this new series…beyond just Sunday night or this one week.  Now that the horse is fast out of the starting gate, what are the challenges facing Star Trek: Discovery in terms of keeping and growing its viewership?  Obviously, CBS is in a unique situation due to its decision to require viewers to pay to see episodes of the new series.  How does that affect their goal of attracting and keeping viewers?

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